The news cycle has quickly settled back into the news of the day with a declining stock market and outrageous acts of Presidential candidates. The early part of last week was dominated by a New York Times article that took us Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. The article gave accounts of mostly former employees and their take on a seemingly abusive culture that was rampant within the company. CEO Jeff Bezos fired back quickly that the company outlined in the article didn’t represent the values of the company he founded and such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated.
Sadly the conversation has fallen off, but there are a number of take-aways for those in the workforce:
- If a company has over 1,000 people, you are virtually guaranteed to find folks dissatisfied with their job. It could be the hours, the lack of resources, or something else that they perceive to be going on. Whether any of those are the reality or not is debatable – but you can’t have a debate over a person’s feelings.
- The management closest to you will set the stage for you to be happy or not. The CEO and senior leadership set the tone and strategy for the company. In a large organization, it takes a large number of leaders broken down into product or division groups to staff, obtain resources, and execute against those strategies. How well they are able to secure resources (people, money, office space, etc.) to carry out the mission sets the base environment for their staff to operate in.
- Every employee is different. What motivates one individual will not necessarily motivate the next. Some are motivated by money, others by working on cutting edge technology and still others by getting recognized at the highest levels. Leaders, managers and even team leads with no HR responsibility need to understand what motivates each person reporting to them and set appropriate mechanisms in place to get the most value from each individual.
Number 3 is one I have pondered quite a bit as of late – the world we are in is changing. The workforce is seeing the first millenials take root, and the world they grew up in was much different than past generations. The 2015 Deloitte Millenial Survey found a majority of this group worldwide was looking for “a sense of purpose” when they joined their current employer. If you are working to cure cancer or feed the hungry this is easy to offer, but the line becomes blurred when you try to apply it to functions like corporate IT or finance.
Leadership styles will have to evolve just as cultures have. Additionally, newer companies that are seemingly busting at the seams with growth will need to keep in mind one question – “How do you keep the company off the front page of the New York Times because of bad publicity?”
Microsoft has released an update for SharePoint Server 2013 that provides a new hybrid crawling feature for search. One of the biggest challenges we face in a move towards the cloud is having a fragmented search experience. Prior to this release, multiple searches had to be conducted across repositories, and there was no way to merge the relevancy rankings. Relevancy scores for on premises results did not merge with the scores from the cloud, so there was no single top-down view of search results. With this release, that is now possible.
My take is that this is not all roses as it may appear. This new feature will “index all your crawled content, including on-premises content, to your search index in Office 365.” This is certainly a step in the right direction from Microsoft, but I’m not sure I where I stand in regards to the approach. The question is in the details of indexing, and how much information gets passed up to Office 365. The potential downside – you may have now created a copy of your on premises content in the cloud, exposing the very legal risks that may have led you to refrain from moving that content to the cloud in the first place.
This functionality will enter the public preview phase in September, and we will get a better look at how this is implemented, and how it can be tuned. The end result may be a walled garden inside our firewall that does not get crawled and has to be searched separately.
Last week I looked at the topic of encouraging innovation, with a focus from a leadership position. The truth is that each of us within a corporate team can bring about innovative change, and this is the notion behind intrapreneurship. Braden Kelley, in his recent article “Innovation: A Team Sport,” highlighted a problem that exists that isn’t often talked about – the fact that team members are often looked at as interchangeable. The truth is, everyone is different in their skills, capabilities and desires. And it is these differences that typically make teams stronger. Just look at The Avengers!
Your teammates on your school projects or in your day jobs are just as different from you as Thor is from The Hulk. Take one away and the team is not as strong. But the spreadsheets where headcount decisions are made do not show that. In fact, you can plop a new human in Excel’s C28 for half the cost if you go 1/4 of the way around the world to hire them. Never mind that the communication costs will be twice as much. You see, humans are not commodities like gold and money. They are valuable stocks with different capabilities and potentials. As a teammate or manager, you must leverage these different capabilities to move ahead.
That, my friends, is the beauty of intrapreneurship. An entrepreneur gambles his life savings on an idea attached to a hope or a dream. The intrapreneur rides on that wave with the resources at his/her disposal and tries to take them all to new heights. No one is asking you to invent the next light bulb. But given the resources you have, what novel approach to combining them will create something new and valuable?
I recently read Gartner’s report, “New CIO Responsibilities in a Digital Business World“, and was intrigued by their encouragement to nourish the “three subcultures within IT”. They defined these subcultures as:
- Operator (linear IT) — focused on keeping things running and improving, based on defined requirements where the priority is stability and reliability
- Innovator (nonlinear IT) — focused on creating new business value and capabilities where the need for speed, innovation and exploring fuzzy requirements are valued
- Guardian (leadership) — focused on ensuring the long-term success of the business, staying industrial strength while being ready for the future, balancing innovation with risk, ensuring a strategic long-term focus and investing in the capabilities required for the future
The standout in this list is the call out of “innovator” as a group that is focused on exploring the areas where a lot of ambiguity exists and is valued. Innovation is getting a lot of play in the IT field, but it is also getting stifled by the frameworks for risk reduction that IT values so much. Old school and new school companies alike including AT&T, Adobe, and LinkedIN are establishing new organizational models to encourage innovation via both financial empowerment and political empowerment. This suggests that innovation is not possible at the rate desired within the other two subcultures, operations and leadership.
Like many problems in this space, I believe it is a problem of structure. I also believe there are many structures that would succeed that do not result in a completely external group being formed. Google and other companies made famous in the last decade their application of 20% time — that is, 1/5 of the work week is designated to personally identified projects and the other 4 are dedicated to the initiatives that have been assigned. The problem here is that if you are within an operations group, much of your time is dictated by external forces, not planned project work. The line is further blurred when you look at DevOps groups that are responsible for new development as well as ongoing operational support.
There is not a one-size-fits-all response to encourage innovation. Organizations are going to have to look at their internal structures, their industry, and all the forces being placed on those walls to determine how best to respond. But they must not overlook their existing talent, and should find ways to include them in the innovation process (ideation, gate reviews, etc.) even if they cannot be dedicated full time. At the same time, the existing talent must be open to new ideas, products and methods that may run counter to “the way we’ve always done things.”